“Mean” Joe Greene was summoned to the Steelers’ offices for a meeting with team chairman Dan Rooney and president Art Rooney II earlier this year. He had no idea why his former bosses wanted to see him.
Then, the Rooneys did what no National Football League offensive lineman could ever do to the leader of the Steel Curtain defense: They made Greene weak in the knees.
“I was sitting down and I got weak in the chair,” Greene said Wednesday afternoon in a telephone interview from his home outside Dallas, describing the way he felt when he was told his No. 75 jersey was going to be retired.
Greene, a member of the Steelers organization for 27 years as a player, coach and scout, understood the significance of the honor.
For 50 years, Ernie Stautner, a defensive tackle like Greene, had been the only Steelers player to have his jersey number (70) retired. That was done at Pitt Stadium in 1964.
Greene’s No. 75 will officially be retired Nov. 2 when the Steelers play host to the Baltimore Ravens at Heinz Field, the Rooneys announced Wednesday.
“I feel so wonderful,” Greene said. “I was flabbergasted when Dan and Art mentioned it to me. I know what it means to the Steelers when they do something of this magnitude. I say that because they haven’t done it in a long time.
“It is so special. When I think of my associations with the Steelers over the years, it’s as a player and the Super Bowls, it’s as a coach and it’s as a scout and then of course the Hall of Fame. Now having my No. 75 retired is another milestone in my career as a Pittsburgh Steeler. I was so proud to be a Steeler and continue to be a Steeler.”
Art Rooney said he had wanted to retire Greene’s number for years, but the concern always was the number of other jerseys that would have to be retired because there were so many Steelers greats from the 1970s.
Rooney said decisions on other players will be made in the future, but he said Greene deserved to be the first of the Super Bowl team members of the 1970s to receive the honor.
“We decided now was the time,” Rooney said. “We don’t have to decide who is next. Joe is the obvious person from the ‘70s team to go first. We’re excited to honor him and his many contributions to the Steelers.”
Greene played from 1969 until 1981 and was a driving force behind the team’s march to four Super Bowl victories in a six-year span from 1975-80. Many consider Greene to be the greatest Steelers player. He was a 10-time Pro Bowler and was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1987.
“I don’t think it was a difficult decision at all, because it was Joe Greene,” Dan Rooney said. “It was not a difficult decision as far as we were concerned because of what Joe was. This doesn’t take anything away from Ernie. Joe is something special. What he did, the way he acted. He is much deserving of this honor.
“I think this is a tremendous thing to do. Joe was the cornerstone to the team. Chuck Noll came and the first pick he made was Joe. Joe had a great determination to win. He pushed everyone in the organization.”
Greene was the Steelers’ No. 1 draft choice in 1969. He was voted the rookie of the year and made the first of 10 consecutive trips to the Pro Bowl. After his playing career, Greene coached for the Steelers from 1987-91 and later served nine years as a Steelers scout.
Greene, 67, said his Hall of Fame career would not have been possible if not for the Rooney family and Noll, who died this year.
“I was fortunate enough to have a great ownership group and Chuck,” Greene said. “Being in that group of men, that is what made it all possible. I was in Pittsburgh in 1969 and I saw what it was to be a Steeler at that time. I saw and lived what happened. When Dan took over and Chuck came in, everything changed. This is a signature thing for me, but I cannot stand alone without the people who impacted my life so much.”
Greene said he chose the Ravens game for the ceremony because they are the team’s biggest rival.
“Probably because they have emerged as the No. 1 antagonist,” Greene said, laughing. “During my days it was Cleveland and then it was Cincinnati and then Houston. It’s been the Ravens for a while. I did it knowing that it’s going to be a hotly contested game.”
The Steelers had not issued Greene’s No. 75 to any of their players since he retired. Other numbers the team does not issue include Terry Bradshaw’s No. 12, Franco Harris’ No. 32, Mike Webster’s No. 52, Jack Lambert’s No. 58 and Jack Ham’s No. 59.
“That was the hesitation for a long time,” Art Rooney said. “If we started down this road, where do we stop? Are there enough numbers to go around for all the guys who deserve to maybe have their numbers retired? The decision we made was we’ll make the decisions one at a time and not decide about any other jerseys at this point.”